On Wednesday, veteran rock critic and journalist Peter Paphides tweeted perhaps the most poignant and accurate tribute ever in 83 characters: “RIP George Martin. Your open, inquiring, playful nature changed everything forever.” Without Sir George Martin, who passed away at 90 on Tuesday, there may have been no “The Beatles”. Without him, there would certainly have been no distinct Beatles’ sound. In June 1962, after several labels had turned them down, Martin granted the band an audience at Abbey Road and signed them onto Parlophone. Soon, he would have drummer Pete Best replaced by Ringo Starr, and made the boys speed up the tempo of “Please, Please Me”. Martin, by then, had arrived as maker, philosopher and friend of John, Paul, George & Ringo.
As the Beatles’ record producer, the classically trained Martin’s ear and unflagging creativity helped tune and enrich John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s lyrical output and chisel out the rough edges from the sound they made together with George Harrison — without compromising their raw genius. Reductively, George Martin was the Apollonian order to the Beatles’ Dionysian chaos. Each exists in its own right. But put them together, and you have artistic perfection, or close to it. Martin, thus, had redefined not only popular music but also the producer’s place in it.
An illustrative example of Martin’s influence is Paul McCartney’s iconic “Yesterday”, which the band wanted him to perform solo on guitar. Martin convinced McCartney to try it with a string quartet. The rest is history. If anybody had first claim to the title of the “Fifth Beatle”, Martin probably ranked above Brian Epstein, their manager who died tragically in 1967. In retrospect, Lennon’s contention that “The Beatles are the Beatles. Separately, they are separate… Nobody is the Beatles. How could they be? We all had our roles to play” is a truism. But then, the other Beatles didn’t agree when, post-split, Lennon underplayed Martin’s role.
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